Hi 68 / Lo 50
|Volume 68, Issue 69, Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Ed De La Garza
Josh Gajewski Nikie Johnson
Affirmative action gone wrong?
In 1978, the Supreme Court decided in Baake that fixed racial quotas couldn't be used in university admissions processes. At the same time, however, the court maintained that diversity was a worthy goal for educational institutions. This decision, and the actions universities have taken in its wake, has been influential in the debate over affirmative action in university admissions.
Here at UH, we've never had to worry too much about diversity (post-integration, at least) — it just comes to us. As residents of a huge, multicultural city, attending a relatively affordable state school, we find ourselves interacting with people of every color and creed on a daily basis. Most of us don't even think about it.
At the University of Michigan, however, attaining diversity is a much bigger deal. The Supreme Court recently announced it would review two cases involving U of M's affirmative action policies, which are ostensibly meant to ensure a diverse student body in both its undergraduate colleges and its law school program.
One case has two plaintiffs, who were B students at Michigan high schools when they failed to receive admission to U of M's College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Their lawsuit alleges that the school's admission of black and Hispanic applicants with lower grades violated the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.
The third plaintiff applied to U of M's law school in 1996 at the age of 43 and is making a similar case. The university's decisions in both cases have been upheld in court so far, and both present the same basic problems: Is the attainment of diversity a "compelling state interest"? If so, are U of M's policies "narrowly tailored" enough to attain that goal without harming competing interests?
U of M said it will defend its admissions program strongly. In its briefs, the school argues that a completely race-blind process would make diversity nearly impossible to attain; even in a "race-blind lottery," the school said, "the percentage of African-American students enrolled would almost certainly fall below 3 percent."
Few would argue that diversity is indeed a worthy goal for an educational
institution. As the court looks to decide how the positive goals of affirmative
action could be balanced with the negative effects it sometimes engenders,
we at UH should keep a close eye on its workings. After all, not everyone
is as lucky as we are — not everyone gets diversity free with tuition.
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